Get access

Do monk seals exert top-down pressure in subphotic ecosystems?



Patterns of subphotic fish assemblages on seamounts in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were identified and compared for potential structuring influences, including the bottom-up effects of regional oceanic productivity and top-down predation pressure exerted by visiting monk seals (Monachus schauinslandi). Patterns in fish size, density, and biomass were evaluated at the deep extreme (350–500 m) of the seals feeding range to avoid confounding effects of diverse shallow habitats (e.g., coral reefs). Fish number and size were used to calculate biomass density of the seamount fish assemblages that were then compared to the independent variables of summit depth, substrate type, relief, oceanic productivity, distance to seal colonies, and seal colony population. Only the variables of distance to seal colony and seal colony population were retained in a multiple regression model that explained 31% of the variance. Despite the presence of obvious regional differences in oceanic productivity, the overall patterns in the subphotic fish assemblages are better explained by the top-down hypothesis of predation pressure from monk seals.